There's a tangible dread that inhabits every minute of "A Quiet Place." It creeps up quickly, darting in the shadows before lunging for your throat and revealing its grand design -- and that design is silence and the devastating effects it can have, both on the film's characters and on us as an audience. Directed by John Krasinski, and starring him and his real-life spouse Emily Blount, it's a wild and unspeakably (literally) tense story of a family living in the aftermath of a meteor strike which has brought alien creatures to Earth. These things (a terrifying mixture of razor-sharp teeth, vibrating membranes and scythe-like appendages) hunt by sound and can detect the faintest of noises around them. And in this terse and claustrophobic narrative, Krasinski manages to explore the notions of familial relationships, sacrifice and of the fears that parents carry on their shoulders.
From the opening scene where we see the family (the parents and three children) as they rummage through an abandoned convenience store looking for medicine and other supplies to its breathless finale, the film hooks us with its smart use of both sound and silence. Early on, we're witness to a heartache that shakes them to their core, but we come back to them much later as they've grown somewhat accustomed to this quiet living. Board games are played with felt pieces, walkways are marked by sound-softening sand trails and sign language in used to communicate. The fact that their daughter (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and use of ASL was already well-known to them aids in their acclimation to the necessity of wordless communication.
First-time director Krasinski reveals a deft hand for horror and suspense, fashioning a tale of human connection and love in the wake of global devastation that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. The use of natural sound is particularly important in the film, as its use provides some of the only moments of verbal conversations in the whole movie. As much as sound is feared, it's also used to remarkable cathartic effect within the film, allowing characters to give voice to their love and devotion to one another when it's most needed. Blount is especially strong and commanding as she begins to wrangle with the realities of her impending pregnancy and how things can seem so dark on the eve of something so joyous.
The first half of the film sets up the conditions of the family, their everyday life and how they've survived with these beasts roaming the woods and fields around them. Elaborate light installations, soundproof rooms and homemade animal traps explain more in their existence than any unnecessary exposition might have. This is a lean and mean movie, with actions kept to a minimum until the final act when everything goes sideways and we're finally given a good look at the creatures -- the fact that Blount's character happens to go into labor during this period of time is particularly nerve-wracking. And as much as we know in our hearts that these people should survive, we're given no evidence that their lives at safe.
Going from the quiet setup of its beginning to the raucous and action-packed tilt of its end, the film manages to hold tight to its reflexive identity, never letting the more explosive events define its personality. This is a film about the dangers of the world, specifically how parents attempt to stave off those awful things for as long as they can by sheltering and teaching their children to survive and grow as individuals, by learning from mistakes and clinging to experience as a medium for personal growth. Krasinski and the writers don't break these ideas over your heard; rather, they allow them to develop naturally over the course the film, giving space to these formative notions of self and persistent external forces.
We eventually become so used to this noiseless atmosphere that when sound does appear it sounds so completely alien that we immediately look for ways to make it stop. That is the power of "A Quiet Place." It makes us reevaluate the depth of silence and how the natural world uses it and the cadence of organic life to build a sustainable environment. Through our muffled gasps (and those come with refreshing urgency), we see a family resolute in their love, although the full recognition of that love may have catastrophic consequences. Compelling and emotionally draining while still revealing the beauty that can lie beneath anguish, "A Quiet Place" is easily one of the best films of 2018 so far.